VT Teddy Bear: Monitoring success

Until a few years ago, the contact center managers at Vermont Teddy Bear Co. would monitor the performance of the agents by walking up and down the aisles and listening in on random calls. If a manager happened to hear a problem, he would meet with the agent later to discuss it.

That may sound surprisingly unsophisticated for a company that prides itself on its customer service, but it’s also not unusual: Retailers have traditionally been holdouts when it comes to investing in call recording/quality monitoring software for their contact centers.

But Vermont Teddy Bear Co. has since invested in a quality monitoring/e-learning system. The company in October 2005 implemented Click2Coach software from Envision, for call recording/quality monitoring to uncover agent performance problems. The system also offers e-learning capabilities to deliver targeted audio/video training clips directly to agent desktops.

According to Anthony D’Andrea, Vermont Teddy Bear’s quality control coach, the new system has improved agent performance and boosted customer satisfaction to new levels. How?

Click2Coach has reduced the merchant’s average call handle time from 7.8 minutes to 5.9 minutes. That’s significant when you consider that the center handles more than 4,000 calls a day during the busy season. First-call resolution rates — in which the inquiry or order is completed on the first call — have also improved, D’Andrea says.

Before it deployed the system, Vermont Teddy Bear’s contact center managers would evaluate agent performance on paper, which was arduous and time-consuming. Now, agent evaluations are automated through the system.

These automated evaluations allow managers to quickly identify areas for improvement. They also create consistent communication throughout the contact center.

Click2Coach’s evaluations provide agents with tangible feedback that they can store and use whenever they feel like they need to revisit the call. For instance, D’Andrea says, when coaching agents about a new address verification system in the contact center, “we can give them a tutorial on it through e-learning and then confirm its use through the evaluated calls.”

In turn, Vermont Teddy Bear managers can report on that specific section of the evaluation and see the improvement, D’Andrea says. “I cannot see how agents got valuable feedback prior to the system’s rollout here in the company.”

More brands, more training

Agent monitoring and training have become more challenging as Vermont Teddy Bear continues to grow. In addition to its flagship stuffed bears business, the company includes fresh flowers merchant Calyx & Corolla, PajamaGram, which sells gift pajamas, TastyGram, which offers gourmet food gifts, and Gift Bag Boutique, which sells handbags and purses along with makeup accessories.

During its slow season, Vermont Teddy Bear employs about 45 agents in its contact center located at its corporate headquarters in Shelburne VT. But the company does more than 40% of its annual sales for the Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day holidays. So in February and May its workforce expands to nearly 700 agents. That’s a lot of agents to hire and train in a short time frame.

What’s more, Vermont Teddy Bear’s contact center reps are “universal” agents who must handle orders for all five brands. That means they have to be trained how to handle orders and field questions for each brand’s specific lines.

D’Andrea says that Click2Coach has helped by providing an automated and on-demand call recording software with screen capture. With the system, Vermont Teddy Bear managers can record agent/customer interactions and identify agent performance problems.

Then using its e-learning capabilities, they can send targeted, custom training clips to agents’ desks, either immediately after a call or on a set schedule. The merchant can also integrate the system with the contact center’s workforce management software, so when call volumes drop, it automatically pushes training to those agents who need it.

On the quality monitoring side, D’Andrea says Vermont Teddy Bear uses the system to automatically record about three calls per agent per shift. With each call, the company’s interactive voice response (IVR) system identifies what the customer is calling about, and then steers the call to the appropriate agent.

The recording software records the call based on how it was classified — for instance, a question about a new product, or a customer who needs help with a return. Using the rules-based “schedule wizard” integrated with the software, the system can be set up to automatically record calls at selected times or intervals, as well as to record specific agents.

During the week, Vermont Teddy Bear’s call center managers review the recordings, and if they uncover a problem in a particular interaction, they provide additional targeted training to that agent — either in person or via the e-learning system.

It works both ways: If the agent does a great job handling the call, he or she receives congratulations from the manger and is rewarded with a small gift.

Vermont Teddy Bear is also using the quality monitoring software to record what’s happening on the agent’s screen during an interaction. The screen capture is synchronized with the audio, so the manager (or the agent) can listen to the interaction and also see what happened on the desktop at the same time.

What’s more, it can record agents’ screens when they aren’t engaged with a customer, which enables a manager to see if a particular agent is visiting their MySpace page or shopping online when they should be taking calls. The system can also be set up to record e-mail and Web chat interactions.

Each recorded interaction is automatically stored in a database known as the “training library.” The recordings can be retrieved, either by the supervisor or the agent, at any time.

According to Envision, pricing for Click2Coach ranges from $500 to $1,500 per agent, depending on the size of the contact center and the features required. Average install time is about eight weeks.

Eye on e-learning

On the e-learning side, Vermont Teddy Bear is benefitting from Click2Coach’s ability to custom train in the classroom, as well as provide personalized coaching at agents’ desks.

The merchant uses the e-learning system to send a variety of alerts to its agents. For instance, it might send reps notice of a sale, a new product launch, a new marketing campaign, a product going out of stock, or changes in shipping rates.

This information can be shared with employees immediately, using the system to send targeted messages that appear on screen while agents are on their calls. This is important, because sometimes the information is relevant to the current call.

D’Andrea says during the peak season, Vermont Teddy Bear provides all new hires with 18.5 hours of paid training in a classroom facility. For those training sessions it uses the system to deliver custom-developed content, including prerecorded interactions that the agents can hear and see via an overhead projector. These prerecorded interactions are part of the initial training materials stored in the cataloger’s training library.

The cataloger’s agents first learn about the products they’ll be selling, “then they learn about our business philosophies. From there we pretty much throw them right into the systems,” D’Andrea says.

“We find that that’s a good identifier as to who is going to be able to use the system,” he adds, “Chances are, if an agent doesn’t know how to get to the Internet, they’re not going to be able to take an accurate order for us.”